We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. Some of us may have taught it to our children and been taught it ourselves as a child. While its true words can’t physically harm us, we all know words can produce a great deal of emotional and even spiritual harm.
There are those who believe their brutal honesty is just their way and who they are and we should be accepting of it. There are teachers in our schools today that have lost their passion for teaching children (If they ever had it) and sling condescending words and insults that cause lifelong damage to their well being. Pastors stand in the pulpit and blame the Holy Spirit for mean spirited, legalistic sermons that strip the Good News of Jesus of all of its grace. There are parents who tear down their children word by word, day by day leaving them feeling worthless, spouses using demeaning and hurtful words leaving bitterness and scars that carry on for years usually resulting in divorce. Even within the walls of our churches we find hateful words, sometimes disguised as humor, sometimes as so called, blunt honesty. People use passive aggressive means to wield words that hurt.
The world teaches us that we aren’t responsible for how others receive what we say. But scripture clearly states we are responsible.
Scripture: Matthew 15:1-20
15 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
9 And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” 15 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
The Pharisees had noticed the disciples of Jesus weren’t adhering to the tradition of washing their hands before eating and challenged Jesus about this issue. Jewish tradition held that a person defiled them self by eating food without washing hands first (Verse 1-2).
Jesus returns their challenge by pointing out how some of their own traditions disobey the commandment of God (Verse 3).
Jesus directs them to God’s command to honor your father and mother which they have changed to benefit for selfish gain. Jesus goes as far as to call them hypocrites pointing out as Isaiah said, “these people worship with their lips but not their actions”.
Jesus then taught that what comes out of your mouth defiles a person, not what goes into it. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks”.
3 Things our Words Reveal
1 Our Words Reveal Our Priorities in the World (Matthew 15:1-6).
By this time in Jesus’ ministry, the religious elite were aware of what Jesus was doing. We know this because a group of them arrived in Galilee to inspect and interrogate Jesus and His ministry. Essentially, their accusation against Jesus’ disciples (delivered in the form of a question) revolved around elders’ tradition of “ceremonial hand washing” before eating. This was an elaborate ritual involving cups, pitchers, and kettles, etc. But Jesus had some questions of His own. He knew that the religious elite were continually breaking a direct command of God (honoring your father and mother). Their question and words looked religious and pious. Their intentions seemed sincere on the surface, but it was apparent that they valued their own tradition more than the commandments of God.
Application: When we ask critical questions about what we do at church or why we do it, just understand there is a motive behind it. Values form priorities, and priorities are expressed with action and words. We can facilitate unity by asking the right questions with the right motives. Breaking church tradition doesn’t make you a bad person, and upholding a church tradition doesn’t make you a righteous person (and vice versa). *Before we speak, examine your heart because your words will reveal your priorities.
2. Our Words Reveal Our Position in Worship (Matthew 15:7-9).
Jesus’ response is an obvious and stinging rebuke. Since worship is a spiritual matter of the heart where God has preeminence, Jesus continues the conversation and quotes Isaiah 29:13. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Ouch! Jesus links their love of tradition over keeping God’s commandments to their personal worship of God. It’s impossible to remain close to God in worship (“hearts are far from me”) if we constantly value anything else over God (even the seemingly apparent good things from God “merely human rules”).
Application: If the church congregation remains in a constant state of religious activity (based on the church calendar and rhythm of life)—valuing and following that more than valuing and following God—then they will drift farther and farther away from God. Insincere worship is “fruitless worship” (futile, in vein, without results). *Ask the hard questions of the church congregation. For example, “to what degree would we be willing to give up a longstanding tradition if it meant we needed to follow God?” Compare it to a man who is in love with his wife, but after years of marriage it falls apart. The reason? He says “I love you more than anything,” but spends all of his time either at work, with “the guys,” watching NFL, etc. To what degree would he be willing to give up any of his traditions (i.e., football-all-day-every- Sunday) if it meant he could stay with his wife?
3 Our Words Reveal Our Purity from Within (Matthew 15:10-11; 17-20).
It is here that Jesus takes this opportunity to teach about what really matters. We do not defile ourselves by what we put into our mouths, but rather what comes out of our mouths. The religious elite were wrong in thinking that keeping their tradition of hand washing kept them spiritually clean. Once again, Jesus turns this conversation towards matter of the heart. God is more concerned about who we really are in the inside than how we present ourselves on the outside. Personal purity doesn’t come from without, but rather from within.
Application: Understanding this kingdom truth will bring spiritual insight and clarity. *Pay close attention to what others say. Pay closer attention to what you say. Our words have a sphere of influence in the church.
2 Ways Words Can Hurt
Words can hurt emotionally
In a split instance a single word can cut like a knife. As disciples of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor. Be aware of what we say and filter our words. James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Often people will claim to be speaking truth boldly or bluntly to a brother or sister who has fallen back into the world. Often you’ll hear phrases such as, I’m not watering down the truth or the Word is offensive and stepping on their toes not me. It’s true the Bible teaches if we see someone in sin we should reel them back in. The Bible says, Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2). The key to this verse is gentleness. Way too often we speak harshly to someone or about someone who has sinned outwardly and call it righteousness.
Words can hurt spiritually
Have you ever heard someone tell a lie so convincing they had you believing them? There’s an old slang saying, “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes”? When a person tells a lie so matter of fact, without reservations for any slight possibility of being wrong, they add strength to their lie.
How can we tell when the words of a pastor or church leader/ teacher are wrong?
Any good lie or falsehood has an element of truth to it, that’s what makes it believable. If you mix in some world view it can be hard to recognize the truth. The first thing to look for while examining its legitimacy is to compare it to what you know about the character of God. He is love first and foremost and 1 Corinthians 13 outlines what that love looks like.
John 8:31-32 says, Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
We need to also remember that Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mat 11:30).
No matter what the world says, we are responsible for our words. Our words have the power to build people up or tear them down. We have the power to teach truth or teach lies.
Let’s make David’s prayer in Psalms 141:3 our own, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”